Because of Monday’s rain-delayed finish in suburban Chicago, the 30 players who advanced to this week’s Tour Championship were a day late adjusting their focus to East Lake Golf Club. None of them, however, will be a dollar short.
At the end of golf’s playoff trail — a gold-paved turnpike stretching from the Northeast to the Midwest and finally to Bobby Jones’ revitalized southern playground — is the promise of a $10 million FedEx Cup bonus. There is another $8 million in purse money to be spread among the select field.
The delay at the BMW Championship cost players one possible practice round at East Lake. Minor complications, much like those facing Tour Championship organizers.
“Logistically, there were some changes we needed to make with hotel rooms. That was about it,” said the event’s executive director, Tom Clark. It can be reported that none of the players will be forced to sleep in their courtesy cars.
Zach Johnson, of St. Simons by way of Iowa, made the most dramatic late charge Monday, winning the BMW Championship and rocketing into the top five of the FedEx Cup point standings. That is rarefied air up there — any of those five can claim the extra $10 million by winning the Tour Championship, no math required. Players Nos. 6-30 will need some help getting to the front of the pay window.
The others of the Favored Five are: Tiger Woods, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott and Matt Kuchar.
All fairly large names, the quintet is conveniently lumped among the top seven of the current world rankings (Johnson is 24th). Such is the nature of the Tour Championship; the high producers tend to make it to Atlanta. In this case, nine of the world’s top 10. The field’s average world ranking: 26.5. The lowest ranked player in the field: Gary Woodland (94th).
Among those not appearing, a mostly international selection: the world’s No. 4-ranked player, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell (11), Lee Westwood (14), Ian Poulter (16) and Ernie Els (20).
Other notable omissions will be particularly conspicuous on Friday, when, in a move designed to marry the regional passion for college football with golf, players and fans are encouraged to wear their college colors. There will be no red and black in the field. Georgia’s Harris English just missed, finishing 31st in points. Bubba Watson was 37th. But break out the Georgia Tech colors for Kuchar and Roberto Castro, both squeezing into this 30-and-under demographic.
Seeing how none of them were able to get a first a peek at the course Monday, Clark was happy to provide an advance scouting report. East Lake looks really good, the wet summer treating it kindly, Clark said. The Bermuda rough is at around 1 1/2 inches, tall enough to be a nuisance but not so tall that search and rescue crews are on stand-by. The greens are as smooth and fast as a skilled used car salesman.
“Zach called East Lake a beast (talking to the Golf Channel after Monday’s victory),” Clark said. “For me it’s always a beast. For those top 30 players, that’s how it feels. This is a challenge, a difficult challenge for everyone. It’s not a long hitter’s golf course. It’s not a finesse course. It’s a great mix.”
“It’s a classic, a challenge me and all my peers look forward to playing,” Johnson said of East Lake after his BMW victory.
Ticket sales, according to Clark are, “way up from last year and last year, we had a record year.” Tickets, however, remain available to Wednesday’s practice round as well as all four competition rounds.